There is a moment in every parent’s day where, despite our best efforts, chaos ensues. It could be during dinner, or perhaps when trying to get out the door. There’s no telling when it will fall, but without fail, every day there is a moment of mayhem that is beyond your control.
Today it was bath time…and the dinner that preceded it. During dinner little g would not stop crying no matter what we tried. She is at the point in her life where she has strong opinions but does not have the words to express them. Instead she communicates with “UGH!” or “WAA!” while thrusting her tiny hands toward her desired prize. During dinner we assumed the constant “WAAAAA!” was for hunger, but no matter what food or drink we gave her, she was not satisfied. Finally, I took her out of her high chair to sit on my lap, assuming that what she wanted was to be held. Even that did not stop her struggle. She wriggled off of my lap and said “BEBE!” while grasping for the baby doll that was on the kitchen counter.
I sighed and got the doll for her, assuming that would bring relief. Instead she toddled back to me and yelled “UGH!” while making grabby hands for me to pick her up. Apparently, sitting on my lap wasn’t enough; she wanted to sit on my lap and eat food off my plate all while holding her brother’s baby doll. (Sidenote: The baby doll was given to Big E when little g was born so he would have his own baby to take care of while I took care of little g. The idea was that he would have less incentive to harm his sister. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of a boy having a baby doll, get over it. It’s basically a life size action figure.)
While little g was eating my dinner, Big E decided to pour lemon juice all over his. Mountain Dad and I, all patience gone between us, declared that dinner was over and started cleaning up. As part of that effort, I plopped the kids in the tub.
Normally bath time is play time. E and g will splash and play in a jovial way. Today started out no differently. Excited by the water and the toys floating around them, Big E and little g poured water out of plastic cups, made rubber duckies swim and knocked toy frogs into the water. Soon, however, I saw them drinking the bath water and spitting it out. I don’t like the idea of my kids drinking each others germs or soap, nor do I like them spitting water at each other and incidentally all over the bathroom. I declared STRIKE ONE and gave them a warning. They went back to playing, the new game involving slapping tummies and then slapping the water. I would’ve been fine with that, except that more water was splashing out of the tub than staying in, so I declared STRIKE TWO and gave them a warning. Finally Big E decided to lay down in the tub, pushing g to the corner. He proceeded to kick his sister, pushing her head down to the water, while splashing the water out of the tub and all over me. STRIKE THREE! STRIKE THREE! GET OUT OF THE TUB! Little g have drown! He got water everywhere! Instead of getting out like requested he laughed his naughty ‘you can’t catch me’ cackle and refused to get out of the tub. I grabbed his shoulders angrily and dragged him out of the tub, drenching my shirt in the process.
Since I had ended bath time so suddenly he, of course, started crying. His crying made little g cry, which made me want to cry…or scream…or break something. I restrained myself, shed my wet shirt and started drying off my kids in just my bra. Big E, in a traditional four year old mood swing quickly forgot that he was upset so that he could run to his room, and jump on his bed buck naked instead. Little g was still crazy upset, screaming with all her tiny lungs’ capacity, while I tried to wrestle her into a diaper and pajamas. I was still half naked and livid at E’s bad behavior in the tub. While I’m trying to calm g down and get her into some clothes, I see Big E out of the corner of my eye. He jumps off the bed, stops his running and stares at the floor. Too late do I realize that he is staring at the stream of pee that is flowing from him freely, right onto the carpet.
“E!” I screamed. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” We are past the point of potty accidents. He knows very well how to get to the potty in time. Fury rushed through me as I grabbed him roughly for the second time in two minutes.
“I had to go pee,” he said, with a cocky smile on his face.
“TIME OUT, right now! Get back in the bathroom!” I threw him in and closed the door behind. My heart pounded and my jaws clenched. Behind me little g redoubled her screaming efforts, no doubt because my outburst had scared her.
I felt out of control and I hated myself for it. As an adult, I know how to control my environment in order to remain calm and happy. I understand the situations that set my temper flaring and I avoid or control them as needed. AS a parent, however, sometimes I can’t control it. I can’t force my son to not pee on the floor. I can’t force my daughter to stop screaming and be happy. All I can do is the best I can. In that moment I just walked away. I went into the next room, and got myself a dry shirt, abandoning my screaming children to self destruct on their own. When logical thought returned I decided the best thing to do was to get everyone to bed as soon as possible. So what that it was only 6:20 pm?
I went back to g and calmed her down as best I could. I gave her the baby doll and a pacifier, then wrestled her into a diaper and pajamas. By then E was saying, “Mom, I’m cold! I need my towel!” and I realized that in my haste I put him back in the bathroom buck naked and he was too short to get a towel down from the shelf. I took some deep breaths and opened the bathroom door.
“E, that was very naughty. You know you don’t pee on the carpet! Why didn’t you pee in the potty?”
“I just felt the pee coming,” he said and shrugged. He picked up his towel and started whipping it around the room.
“What do you say to me?” I asked. He wasn’t getting off that easy.
“Sorry, Mom,” he replied. I told him he had to get into pajamas without any complaints and he lost his soccer ball and two bedtime stories as well. After he was dressed he helped me clean up the carpet and by then we had both calmed down considerably.
Now, the house is quiet. Both g and E are asleep. The clock ticks and the fridge hums, but other than that it’s silent. A calmness washes over me as my frustration and impatience silently dissipates. I can feel the night eraser doing its work. The kids are tucked in; the house is dark and quiet.
I begin to see my mothering mistakes lessen in their magnitude. Hope, that perhaps I can be a little better tomorrow, seeps into my mind. I am left with the essential me, and I find myself thinking of little g’s laugh and Big E’s active mind.
Every day has its struggle, but after the fight, wrongs I’ve done are swallowed up by the night.